SILENCE

**Trigger Warning** Mention of abuse and sexual assault, gird thou loins**

Two days ago, I had a conversation with a new friend about oppression and privilege. A lot of issues came out of it, some of which I’m still chewing over and plan on discussing once I get my head around the issues properly, but in the middle of our conversation my friend stated very clearly: “I am entitled to my opinion, and I have a right to express it.”

That sentence has been nagging at me ever since but, this morning I woke up with that statement echoing in my head and the realisation that within certain contexts, due to a lack of privilege, I don’t have the right to my own opinion, I’m not given the right to express myself. And I realised that for the most part I have spent my life being repeatedly SILENCED.

People don’t often see that silence is a weapon used against oppressed groups and individuals. People often assume that because they’re free to verbalise their opinions, that everyone has this privilege. That if someone isn’t feeling listened to, all they have to do is speak their thing (because everyone’s free to have an opinion, right?). But that’s not actually the case with people lacking in societal privilege and people experiencing oppression.

Let me give you an example. I’m fat, I’ve been fat my entire adult life, and as a consequence I avoid food courts, because if I dare to sit down and eat something that isn’t salad in a public place as a fat person, at least one skinny stranger will come along with their “opinion” about my meal and how disgusting I am. That skinny person has the privilege, they are given the right by society to express their unsolicited opinion on my body and my diet. And as the disgusting fat person, I’m expected to take their unsolicited, abusive opinion with grace and SILENCE. If I fight back I’m abused further, not only by the initial skinny person who will often express how they have the right to their opinion (which is one reason why I flinched when my friend said the above statement), but I’m also SILENCED by passerbys who insist that by responding “aggressively” to the abusive skinny person, that I am the abusing party because the skinny person “was just helping”.

Now, in that situation I have a choice, I can either be SILENT and get their abuse over and done with quickly, or I can fight and basically be verbally and sometimes physically abused by the privileged until I comply and be SILENT.

And this applies across the board in all areas where I’m oppressed to one degree or another. For example, a sexist man once assaulted me and threatened to rape me to put me in my “place”, just for daring to own a vagina and voicing an opinion that was contrary to his. All I did was tell him that he was ignorant of a particular situation and that he might gain something by learning more about the topic, and suddenly the “punishment” for daring to disagree with him, for suggesting that I might know more than him about a particular subject, and daring to also own a vagina, was to be raped.

The translation of that situation is that he deemed me to be less than him and in his effort to establish his perceived superiority, he used the threat of something horrible to SILENCE me.

I’ve been without privilege my whole life. I’ve been bullied, abused, assaulted, threatened with rape, and actually raped, all in an effort for other people to ensure my SILENCE and to establish their perceived superiority over me. This process is a big part of oppression.

And now, given this life long experience with oppression, you should understand why I state with a very firm resolve that privilege means the right to speak and express opinion, and a lacking in privilege means enforced SILENCE and then a resulting violence if one defies that enforcement.

So the reality of my life is that in many contexts, I’m not entitled to an opinion, nor do I have the right to express any opinion in these contexts, solely due to my lack of privilege and my experience of oppression.

The only ones allowed to speak are those with the privilege. And if you look at every situation of oppression, you’ll see that continual SILENCING, and for the most part, that’s what the violence is actually about. When someone murders a trans woman of colour, that’s the intersection of three areas of oppression: being a woman, being trans, and not being white. That murder isn’t only a form of terrorism to try and SILENCE the communities she belongs to, that murder is also how the privileged person establishes their “superiority” and their power, by committing the ultimate act of SILENCING.

What this means is that for those of us who experience oppression, we have a very tough decision to make every single day, and in every single interaction with privileged folks: do we remain SILENT and become complicit in our own abuse, or do we stand up against that oppression, and ultimately risk violence and death at the hands of the privileged?

For most of my life, due to severe PTSD and the other effects of having been a victim of repeated and ongoing abuse of various kinds, I’ve had to choose to be safe, choose to be SILENT. I’ve had forty years of abuse and I have come to the end of my “taking it with grace and decorum”. Forty years of abuse and I have become utterly livid at my treatment by society. And while I do not wish to retaliate with violence or harm to other people, I cannot let this abuse happen any longer.

And I suspect a vast majority of those of us in the world who experience oppression are feeling a similar sort of livid rage. We deserve the right to be people, we deserve the right to speak and to express ourselves without abuse and murder.

And while I still and likely will always have severe PTSD, so that my anxiety is crippling my ability to physically speak for myself, I refuse to be SILENT any longer in those contexts where I can speak.

I will not be silent any more.

Does Freedom of Speech mean I can say what I want?

(Originally posted: 10 Dec 2016 on the old blog)

Being a regular facebooker, I’ve seen all sorts of arguments, and responses to arguments. One that bothers me a great deal is this idea of people thinking that they can say what they want without social repercussions because of Freedom of Speech.

Now, whenever someone says this, I think of the various movie memes when a character says “I do not think you know what that word means”.

In general terms, Freedom of Speech is the right of every person in that particular country to say what they wish (within legal reasonableness), without fear of death, attack or some other sanctions from the government.

Freedom of Speech and Expression is covered in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and under this Article 19 is a suggestion of limitations to the Freedom of Speech: Justifications for such include the harm principle, proposed by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty, which suggests that: “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” (Wiki)

Now, different governments apply the legal definitions and consequences of Freedom of Speech, slightly differently (and I’m not knowledgeable enough in international law to go into specifics). But they all come down to the idea that freedom is where one can say what one wishes (within reason) without fear of punishment from the government. No where that I’ve seen does this Right extend to one person being allowed to speak their mind, while blocking the right of other people who disagree with them to verbalise their disagreement.

The idea of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is to make everyone as absolutely equal as possible. So that one person doesn’t have more rights to being human than someone else. So, Freedom of Speech is about everyone being allowed to speak without sanctions from their government, and that right protects not just one opinion but all opinions (within legal reasonableness). What that really means is that whether you and I disagree about an issue, we both have the right to express our opinions without the government chucking either of us in jail. Which means, if I disagree with you, the law protects not only your right to speak, but mine also. So, when we all argue on the internet, and paratroopers don’t break into our houses and to arrest us, what we’re actually doing is practising Freedom of Speech.

And while I can certainly understand why anyone would wish that there were laws against people expressing opinions that we don’t like, in order to protect our own rights to free speech, we also have to protect the rights of those we disagree with for it to truly be a Universal Human Right.

In The Friends of Voltaire, Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” 

So, next time you get annoyed when someone disagrees with you, try and remember that they’re not breaching YOUR Freedom of Speech, but actually practising their own.